The Best Baking Cookbooks
Where cooking is an art, baking is most definitely a science. A good cookbook with instructions on techniques and methods that matches your skillset will make or break those tasty delights coming out of your kitchen. Everyone should first own a basic baking cookbook that will teach them the various baking techniques before branching out into more advanced tomes.
Once you have basic methods down pat, you can branch out in specialty cookbooks. There are literally hundreds of specialty baking cookbooks available today that focus on topics such as artisan breads, pastries, wedding cakes, cookies, chocolate, and so forth.
The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion
King Arthur flour and other baking ingredients have been gracing store shelves for 200 years. This baking cookbook contains over 400 traditional and new baking recipes for your kitchen. It contains a mix of both sweet and savory recipes as well as leavened and non-leavened ones. And it not only gives you recipes, it conveys the science of baking in a straightforward and clear manner. And in what may seem an odd move to some, you will not see any brands mentioned in here -- not even their own.
PROS: Technical instructions are written in a manner that both advanced and novice bakers can easily follow and understand. Contains a lot of step-by-step illustrations, and has an extensive illustrated sections on tools that all bakers should have in their kitchens.
CONS: The cookbook author highly recommends that you ditch your measuring cups and weigh all of your ingredients using a kitchen scale. It tends to have a lot of regional New England influence. Lacks enough photos of the finished product.
The America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book
America's Test Kitchen is well-known for their extensive recipe testing, and their expertise is quite obvious from this baking cookbook. It includes over 700 recipes ranging from simple cookies and biscuits to more complicated artisan breads and wedding cakes. All of the recipes are very family-friendly and accessible to novice as well as more advanced bakers.
PROS: Easier recipes are clearly marked for 'Great for Beginners', while more complicated recipes contain step-by-step instructions. The book also contains over 1,000 color photos. The first two chapters include a pantry section that covers the basic baking ingredients as well as tips for substitutions. That is followed by a chapter on the proper equipment you will need for baking along with lots of color photos.
CONS: If you own a lot of other America's Test Kitchen or Cook's Illustrated cookbooks, you might be disappointed as many of the recipes in this cookbook have been published in the other books previously.
Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook
Martha has gone and done it again by bringing style and sophistication to home baking. Her baking cookbook starts off with a photo-illustrated section that covers General Baking Tips, Equipment and Techniques that all bakers should read carefully. It contains over 200 recipes for both sweet and savory baked goods, all meticulously organized. In addition to basic recipes like Classic Apple Pie, Martha's cookbook also includes recipes for lesser-known baked goods such as Pithiviers and Sfogliatelle.
PROS: Each chapter begins with general tips and tricks for that particular type of baking (eg puff pastry, cakes, etc.). Full-color photos abound in this cookbook, particularly step-by-step photos to illustrate more complicated techniques. The last chapter of the book gives source information for ingredients that may be difficult to find in your grocery store.
CONS: Despite all of the tips and step-by-step photos, I would not consider this appropriate for a novice baker. There are some recipes that contain errors, missing steps or ingredients.
Baking and Pastry: Master the Art and Craft
The Culinary Institute of America has created this as a textbook for culinary professionals and students, but advanced home bakers will learn from it as well. With over 625 recipes and lots of additional information, this book is more like an encyclopedia of baking than a standard cookbook.
PROS: Explains why some of the baking processes work the way they do. Explores plating of your baked goods for those who intend to entertain.
CONS: Volumes and yields are set for a professional kitchen, i.e. a pound cake recipe that makes six two-pound loaves, egg yolks measured in ounces, etc. Quite a bit of cross-referencing of ingredients can make it difficult to follow at times. Not advised for a novice baker.
Baking: From My Home to Yours
Dorrie Greenspan's comfortable and witty style is evident throughout her baking cookbook. As you read her recipe introductions, you will feel as if she is standing in the kitchen with you. Her 230+ recipes include both the familiar and the uniquely-Dorrie baked delights. Her recipes use everyday ingredients familiar to most home cooks, and while she educates you on the technical aspects of baking, the text does not sound technical at all.
PROS: Covers most American basic pastries. Perfect choice for the novice baker, particularly those with families. The recipes are more "comfort" style than glamorous. Gives insight to topics such as selecting the right pan, how and when to use leaveners, etc. Includes a glossary of ingredients, tools and techniques that even advanced bakers will learn from.
CONS: Needs more color photos of the finished products, and not all of the photographs have captions. More of a practical dessert book than a baking book, as there are only four basic yeast bread recipes. Many of the recipes tend to be overly sweet.
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